- At a recent summit in Colombia, Brazil’s President Lula emphasized the importance of avoiding an ecological transition based on the “predatory exploitation” of critical minerals, warning about the dangers of concealed neocolonialism.
- At the same time, his government is also promoting a “Green Plan” to transition away from fossil fuels, which paradoxically relies on an expansion of mining like he opined against.
- “While it is imperative that our societies move swiftly toward ecological transition away from fossil fuels, it is just as imperative that such a transition be just and not replicate the colonial extractive logic that underlies today’s climate crisis and that is exemplified by the mining industry,” a new op-ed argues.
- This article is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily Mongabay.
When it comes to advancing a much-needed ecological transition alongside the expansion of industrial mining, Brazil’s Lula Administration presents a clear contradiction. Recently, during the summit in Letícia, Colombia, President Lula emphasized the importance of avoiding an ecological transition based on the “predatory exploitation” of critical minerals, warning about the dangers of concealed neocolonialism.
Yet the Lula government is also promoting a so-called “Green Plan” that stimulates efforts towards a transition away from our current over-reliance on fossil fuels, but paradoxically relies on the expansion of mining. The plan in fact replicates a colonial extractivist model that Lula rightly signals must be a thing of the past.
Among the projects featured in the “Green Plan,” the “Solar for All” program is notable, as it aims to install solar panels in urban peripheral neighborhoods, providing renewable alternative energy to underserved communities and lowering their electricity costs. However, the production of solar panels depends on the extraction of critical minerals, which often occurs in ecologically sensitive areas, meaning that our much-needed transition to clean energy could come at an unbearable cost to the ecosystems it’s intended to safeguard.
Furthermore, Brazil’s “Green Plan” envisions boosting South American integration with bioeconomy initiatives entailing the development of a series of regional energy, infrastructure, and mining projects, which threaten Amazonian ecosystems and forest communities. The plan also features the significant deployment of offshore wind energy, increasing demand for minerals such as lithium, which it proposes should be prospected and mined nationally while failing to consider the socio-environmental impacts of these activities.
Another component of the “Green Plan” is Brazil’s “National Fertilizer Plan,” which aims to reduce the country’s dependence on nitrogen-based fertilizers by incentivizing the extraction of minerals such as potassium. However, the expansion of potassium mining raises serious concerns about the human rights and environmental impacts of this industry. Such impacts are exemplified by the activities of the Canadian mining company Brazil Potash on the land of the Mura Indigenous people in Autazes, Amazonas, where the company has failed to consult Indigenous communities threatened with a range of mining impacts including the pollution of vital water resources.
This contradiction becomes even more alarming when considering the planned merger of Brazil’s “Agricultural Plan” with its “Low Carbon Plan.” The combination of these plans will likely lead to increased demand for mineral inputs, inevitably resulting in mining expansion and, consequently, environmental degradation and rights abuses.
While it is imperative that our societies move swiftly toward ecological transition away from fossil fuels, it is just as imperative that such a transition be just and not replicate the colonial extractive logic that underlies today’s climate crisis and that is exemplified by the mining industry. A truly just transition rigorously upholds ecological and human rights standards rather than simply accepting solutions dictated by self-proclaimed green companies that offer minimal compensation for socio-environmental impacts.
As the Brazilian Government positions itself as a leader of the ecological transition, it should consider adopting a “Just Transition Plan” that prioritizes environmental protection and preservation, while seeking alternatives to the unrestrained expansion of mining, particularly in the Amazon rainforest. Such an approach would include the regeneration of degraded areas, the preservation of the lands of Indigenous and traditional peoples, and the promotion of circular and community-based economies, such as the implementation of agroforestry and the use of organic matter for biofuel production.
The promotion of community-based economies must go hand in hand with a truly just transition, as does the recognition of no-go zones for industrial extraction, such as Indigenous lands and other protected areas. An ecological transition beyond fossil fuels must not imply simply swapping one predatory economic model for another.
Gabriela Sarmet is a Brazilian researcher specializing in mining conflicts and an activist for human rights and the rights of nature. As Brazil Campaigns Advisor at Amazon Watch, she coordinates campaigns implementing strategies to denounce the systematic rights violations of industrial mining in the Brazilian Amazon. Christian Poirier serves as Program Director at Amazon Watch and previously led its Brazil program and supported campaigns targeting the energy, agribusiness, and mining industries, with a particular focus on the complicity of global actors.
Banner image: A different aerial view of the mine and stockyard of Vale’s S11D Complex in Pará State. Image by Ricardo Teles/Agência Vale.
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